Christ’s Light shining in Colombia

The Catholic faithful of Medellin del Ariari are eagerly looking forward to their new church. Thanks to the generosity of our benefactors, ACN was able to contribute towards this project, and now the new church is nearly finished.

This parish in the diocese of Granada is some 350 miles (600 km) southeast of the other Medellin, Colombia‘s second city, and was established only in 2013. In fact it is not really a ‘normal’ parish at all, but has been designated as a special place of remembrance for all the victims of the violence in the country
since 1980.

The people of this region had first-hand experience of the terrible suffering which afflicted the entire country during that time. Between 2002 and 2006 no fewer than 700 families were driven from their villages in the area of the present parish. Some of them have since returned, but much still has to be done to rebuild all the social infrastructure and above all the people‘s trust and hope in the future.

The new church is intended to be a place of healing, reconciliation and peace as well as a memorial. Many of those traumatised by past events, including victims and family members alike, will be given special pastoral and psychological support.

The central focus will be on the respect for and protection of life, which was so terribly trampled on in the past. The three Claretian priests who are based in this centre will be making every effort to ensure that the life of these people is re-established on a solid footing and adequately protected.

Father Alphonso María Prieto has contacted ACN to say that the Church is now roughly 70% complete and that Holy Mass can already be celebrated there. He writes,

‘Thanks to your generosity, we will be able to proceed with this work without any great delay. It is by no means a luxurious church, but it is very beautiful, as befits our Lord and God who gives us every good gift. 

Our community finds in this church a very beautiful and welcoming place of spiritual refuge which will at the same time be a living memorial to the many martyrs and victims of violence from sadder and darker times, and above all a source of hope for a future in justice and peace.’

This article can be found in Mirror 0817.

Sharing the Joy of the Redemption

The charity of works lends unmistakable efficacy to the charity of words, wrote Pope Saint John Paul II. Both these things, words and works, are the essence of mission. And it is particularly in the area of works that we can help.

Sometimes these works consist in enabling the presence of priests. The indigenous peoples of the diocese of Jinotega, in Nicaragua, have been waiting a whole year for a priest to come. But they can only be reached by water.

The priests of the diocese would be only too happy to undertake the boat journey, three or four times a year and bring the strength of the sacraments – and especially the Eucharist – to the waiting faithful of the Miskito and Mayangna peoples in their 31 villages. Indeed, as one of the missionaries, Father Cristobal Gadea observes, ‘Our mission is by no means a one-way street. We can learn a great deal from their deep, natural faith.’

But the old motor on their boat is getting increasingly unreliable, and maintaining it is becoming too expensive. They don’t have the money for a new motor, they barely have enough to afford to hire a boat. Bishop Carlos Enrique Gutierrez told us: 

‘We have sold the still usable parts of the old motor. We have two boats without motors, a small one and a large one, to suit the size of the team. Two new motors – a small one and a powerful one are needed as is financial help for fuel and spare parts…’

The bishop has a fervent devotion to the Mother of God. His letters have a printed motto at the foot of each page:

¡Quien Causa tanta alegría! …
¡La Inmaculada Concepción de María! (‘What causes such deep affection – Mary’s Immaculate Conception!’). 

We are only too happy to help, so that his priests can more often share the joy of the redemption with the Miskito and Mayangna peoples.

Sometimes the work of charity involves going out to the people and living alongside them. In Kajokeji, in South Sudan, three Comboni Sisters have spent several years carrying out missionary work, even in time of war, when it was particularly needed.

Their closeness to the people gave them comfort and showed the truth of their words. But the continuing warfare has forced the people to flee and destroyed the small mission outpost. So the Sisters have followed the refugees to Uganda. Here they have found temporary refuge with their fellow Comboni Sisters – but they are over 100 miles (170 km) from the refugee camps – too far away to be able to continue their work.

A modest house nearby with a water tank, solar panels and a gas cooker would cost more then they can afford. Such a  little house would help nurture the refugees’ faith. The Comboni Sisters have asked our help, so that they can be close to the people and – despite the circumstances – share the Joy of the Redemption with them. We have promised them the help they need, so that they can live closer to the refugees and bring the loving charity of God to them.

This article can be found in Mirror 0717.

Cuba - Sharing the Joy of the Gospel

Jesus himself was a man from the periphery, from that Galilee far from the power centres of the Roman Empire… Yet his word was… the start of a spiritual and human revolution, the Good News of a Lord who died and rose for us. And we want to share this treasure!

Pope Francis wastes no opportunity reminding the Church, reminding us all, of our missionary vocation. Sharing the treasure of the Good News means, more often than not, sharing the grinding poverty at the peripheries of society.

The Sisters of the congregation of the Misioneras de Jesus Verbo y Victima (Missionaries of Jesus Word and Victim) do just this in areas where there is a shortage of priests. Places like Guasimal in Cuba, where five Sisters of the congregation minister to 30 remote rural villages. For decades now, the hostile, anti-Christian communist regime has sown the seeds of poverty and despair, and now the sects are springing up everywhere, finding an easy prey in suffering souls thirsting for God. There is also the devastating plague of alcohol.

The five Sisters of the congregation are bringing the light of the Gospel to this area and to the 9,000 souls waiting for them. They are constantly on the road, covering the journeys of over 20 km between the villages in a 25-year-old minibus. They are aflame with the love of Christ. But they have no way of supporting themselves financially in this impoverished area, and as a young congregation they have no financial reserves either.

Mother Maria Veronica has asked our help for the cost of food, clothing, water and electric power so that ‘the joy of the Gospel may reach to the ends of the earth, illuminating even the fringes of our world’ 1  including those on the fringes of Cuba.


1 Evangelii gaudium,288

This article can be found in Mirror 0617.

Brazil - I pray with every page

And the Word became flesh’, we read in Saint John’s Gospel. This is a Word with hands and feet, who lives and gives life. And brings light and healing to every corner of the world.

There is no place where this Word cannot work. Those working in the prison apostolate in Brazil have seen it for themselves. ‘Love never fails’, says Father Valdir João. ‘Loving concern and respect always succeed, even though it sometimes doesn’t seem that way.’ And Father Valdir knows what he’s talking about, for he coordinates the prison outreach in São Paulo. The Brazilian prisons are truly on the fringe of society, places without hope. But the Good News of the Gospel brings many prisoners a glimmer of light, of inner freedom.

And these conversions do happen behind bars. One little thing that helps the pastoral visitors in their work is the magazine Mundo e Missão. The stories in it touch the hearts of many inmates. One of them writes, ‘I thank God when this magazine arrives. I pray with every page.’ 

Another says thank you for the ‘tough report about the prisons. It is all true; we are living it’. The prisoners can’t afford to subscribe, so you are helping, so that Father Valdir and the other pastoral visitors can pay for 250 copies. Sadly, it is little more than a drop in the ocean among the 600,000 prisoners in the system, even though every copy passes through a dozen hands.

But each issue brings light into these dark corners, each word does its work, sowing seeds of healing and salvation.

This article can be found in Mirror 0617.

The Riches of Catholic Teachings

Married love, therefore, requires of husband and wife the full awareness of their obligations in the matter of responsible parenthood’, states the encyclical Humanae Vitae of Pope Paul VI, adding that the Church ‘cannot do otherwise than teach the law… of human life restored to its native truth and guided by the Spirit of God’.

Communicating a proper understanding of these obligations and the teachings of the Church about them is the goal of a campaign by the ‘Centre for Education and Family Life’ in the archdiocese of Tegucigalpa in Honduras.

Launched in April 2017, it is to continue throughout the year. As in the encyclical itself, this is not just about sexuality and conception, but about recognising the wider connections between parenthood and family, sexuality and love, emotions and intellect, dignity and the welfare of the married couple and of society.

Today these natural connections are being deliberately obscured by ideologies such as

  • gender mainstreaming,
  • feminism and
  • relativism.

For these ideologies are working for the destruction of marriage and the family, often aided and abetted by the media.

The Church is fighting back against these tendencies and has identified four specific areas that are ‘hostile’ to Christian values:

  • parenthood without responsibility,
  • pregnancies and abortions among children and young people,
  • the conflict between decadent ideologies and traditional values, and
  • AIDS among the young.

The aim of the campaign is to prevent these tragedies. With its 25 years of experience the centre also hopes to have an impact on society generally. This media coverage is achieved with 1,200 radio and 720 TV adverts, 16 major advertisements in magazines and 50 banners on internet portals. This is striving to convey the human riches of Catholic social teaching as against the consumerist mentality and trivialisation of sexuality in society.

This is a pioneering project. With the help of the parents the diocese is aiming to challenge the state, which in the field of education and also in sexual matters is attempting to call in question the natural right of parents to be the primary educators of their children.

At the same time the centre is promoting natural family planning, using simple pictorial images and showing for example how, just as ‘Mother Earth’ has its fertile and infertile seasons, so too the ‘woman as mother’ has similar monthly cycles.

Understanding our own human nature is one precondition for responsible parenthood, but teaching it costs money. Given the worldwide confusion with these issues, we want to help, and so we have promised our help for the programme in Tegucigalpa.

This article can be found in Mirror 0617.

Something Big for the Family

‘We need to do something big for the family, something like the Child’s Bible.’

Father Werenfried, ACN’s founder, often expressed this wish. He could see the connection between the Gospel message, life, the family and the young people of the Church. Today ACN Child’s Bible has been published 51 million times in 187 languages and 202 different countries or regions.

And for young people we also have the YOUCAT series, now in a number of different titles – a catechism, a youth Bible, a prayer book, a Confirmation book, a Confession book, and as DOCAT, a practical summary of Catholic social teaching. The publication of this series is supported by the pontifical foundation ACN. The YOUCAT catechism alone has now reached 4 million copies in over 150 different countries.

Last year, thanks to your generosity we were also able to fund the publication of numerous other liturgical and religious writings and books in a total printing of some 1.5 million copies.

We are trying to do what Father Werenfried wanted: Something big for the family.

The Holy Bible remains the most widely read book in the world, with an estimated total printing of around 3 billion copies.

This article can be found in Mirror 0617.

Brazil - Put out in the Deep

‘Duc in altum – put out into the deep’, says Jesus to Simon Peter, after teaching the people from his boat (Luke 5:4).

Jesus needed a boat from which to proclaim the Gospel. For the Mar a Dentro community based at the mouth of the Amazon in Brazil, the words of Christ are an inspiration for their work. They too put out into the deep, as fishers of men.

They have an old wooden boat, which chugs along slowly and has no reverse gear – which turns mooring into a risky manoeuvre every time – and is in constant need of repair. But they need it. Some 400 families on the island of Caratateua-Outeiro depend on them for medicine, teachers for their children, and the Word of God.

They are in need of healing, both in a physical and in a spiritual sense. The community and its many volunteers bring them health and healing. They call this project ‘The Friends of the Island’. They have a house on the island, in Outeiro, where they provide vocational training courses and medical and psychological help. They also offer catechesis, prayer groups, Word liturgies and, whenever possible, celebrate Holy Mass.

In previous centuries the island was used by the indigenous peoples as a cemetery. Today, especially in the Amazon region, there are numerous sects who exploit superstition for their own ends. The Mar a Dentro community’s humanitarian and evangelisation work aims to fight this throughout the region, and particularly on the island, with its 65,000 inhabitants.

There is only one bridge to Outeiro. So their boat is essential, and also necessary to reach neighbouring islands. It plies the waters, steadily, but oh so slowly. The community would like to expand its missionary work, as there are so many they could help.

But with their old boat they cannot. A new boat would reduce their overall costs, allowing them to travel more frequently. ‘Master’, said Simon, ‘we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets’ (Luke 5:5-6). And they took a great catch, so great that they had to call on a second boat to help them and ‘they … filled both the boats, so that they began to sink’ (Luke 5:7).

We have promised to help purchase a new boat, as without a second boat their work will not flourish. All of us, Mar a Dentro, ACN and you our benefactors are the fishermen who place these and other boats in the service of the Lord, so that His Healing and Salvation can reach the multitude.

This article can be found in Mirror 0417.

Where the Church is the only Ray of Hope

Even great saints have their weaker moments. When St. Teresa of Avila’s wagon broke an axle in the middle of crossing a ford, she raised her eyes to heaven, and cried, ‘If this is how you treat your friends, Lord, it’s no wonder you have so few of them!’

But of course Saint Teresa knew that there are worse things than a broken axle. The same is true today. When the earthquake struck Haiti in early 2010, houses crumbled, churches and bridges collapsed and great rifts opened up in the streets. It marked a complete rupture with the past, a historical turning point – as nothing has been the same since. Not even poverty.

Even before then, Haiti was one of the world’s poorest nations, but the earthquake and its aftermath have left people with even starker prospects for the future. You could say their lives are still shaken by the earthquake today. And yet the Catholics of Haiti are still faithful to God. They seem to lack almost everything, but they have not lost their hope. This axle, around which their life revolves, has not been broken. Across vast swathes of the country the Church is the only ray of hope for many.

The state has, to all intents and purposes, imploded and in many places simply no longer functions. As the infrastructure has collapsed so have the roads. In the southwest of the country the roads end abruptly, and at 500 metres above sea level they become winding tracks of earth. One of these leads to the small town of Palmes among the hills and mountains, where the parish of Our Lady of the Presentation is located. Its young and enthusiastic priest, Father Roud Sauveur takes care of everything, as there is no one else. He looks after nine schools with 2,780 children, a sparsely equipped health centre and nine chapels.

Of the 36,000 inhabitants almost half are Catholic; many others follow voodoo cults. It is virtually impossible for him to celebrate Holy Mass in all nine chapels every weekend. Father Roud has great difficulties navigating all the roads by bicycle.

And sometimes he has to visit several dozen sick people in a week. So he is constantly on the go. For the moment there is no possibility of training lay catechists or pastoral helpers. There is a shortage of teachers in the schools, since no one wants to come to this inaccessible area. A sturdy 4×4 would not only make his work much easier in many areas but actually make it possible in the first place.

Then he could bring teachers and volunteers into the hill schools from the nearest town, or transport mothers-to-be into the town. Three hours on foot would be cut to just one by car. ‘A car would be like an active helper, lending a hand’, Father Roud tells us. For Father Roud it was a moment of great joy when he heard that we would be helping him, it was a glimmer of hope amidst the formidable obstacles of everyday life.

This article can be found in Mirror 0417.

Nothing is wasted - Religious Sisters

‘The works of mercy are handcrafted’, Pope Francis writes.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the service given by religious sisters around the world to their fellow men. They are the embodiment of God’s creative mercy, the face and hands of Mother Church.

The handiwork of mercy carried out by the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary in Pakistan helps many girls and young women. Socially speaking, women have practically no rights in a society dominated by men and corruption – particularly if they are non-Muslims.

Christian girls and women are frequently molested sexually or even raped. In court they rarely find justice and it often happens that after being raped or forced into ‘marriage’ with a Muslim man, they are rejected or abandoned even by their own family. One way to counteract this discrimination is through education, and this is what the sisters provide.

They take in the poorest girls, including orphans and street children, aged 4 to 16 and offer them a new home in their Sacred Heart convent in Lahore. But now they are also in need of help, as their meagre resources are almost entirely exhausted, by the cost of medication for the ten frail and elderly sisters of the congregation among other things. And they also have to find the means to renovate their small bathrooms, as there are leaks everywhere and the pipework throughout their 80-year-old building is rusting through.

Of course, the medication for the elderly sisters – aged between 75 and 95 – has to take priority, as they cannot afford both. So we have promised help for essential repairs.

Many other elderly sisters, in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa, are frail and tired after giving their lives in the service of mercy. But there is no such thing as retirement or pensions for those engaged in this handiwork of mercy. Uncomplaining, they bear their final years with joyful serenity.

‘Mercy gives rise to joy, because our hearts are opened to the hope of a new life’ (Pope Francis). All their lives they have opened other people’s hearts to hope; now they themselves continue to hope, pray and work in the mother houses of their congregations – whether in Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil or in Cameroon, Rwanda and Nigeria. They continue to serve, but now in a different way.

Their younger sisters take over the work – catechesis, youth apostolate, serving the liturgy, caring for the sick and elderly, teaching in the schools, caring for orphans and handicapped, parish bookkeeping, running rural clinics and providing basic medication – to say nothing of the consolation they so often bring by their mere presence. None of these services of love would be possible without the financial support we provide – thanks to the generosity of you, our benefactors.

Sometimes it is just enough to survive on. And when they have a little more than that, they pass it on to the poor. Nothing is wasted in this beautiful service of love.

This article can be found in Mirror 0217.

God’s Messengers Among Us - Seminarians

One in every 10 seminarians around the world is supported by ACN. Most of them are studying in Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe. Without this help there would be fewer priests in the world. Our aid covers many aspects, from scholarships, via construction aid through to help with the cost of printing religious literature.

In a message of greeting to the candidates at the Benedict XVI Interdiocesan Seminary in Kendoumayah, GuineaConakry, given to mark the consecration of the newly opened seminary chapel, Emeritus Pope Benedict wrote as follows: ‘In December 1944, when I was called up for military service, the company commander asked each new recruit what his chosen profession would be. I replied that I wanted to become a Catholic priest. The recruiting sergeant told me I’d better choose a different profession, since in the new Germany there would be no need for priests any more. 

But I knew even then that this new Germany was finished and that after the terrible devastation it would need priests more than ever before. Admittedly, the situation today is altogether different, but there are still many people who believe we no longer need priests any more; that it is a calling without a future. What an error! The priest is not a manager of the community’, Pope Benedict told them, ‘He is God’s messenger among us.’

It is this same outlook that infuses the prayer and studies of the 73 seminarians who are currently training here in Kendoumayah. The first ordinations to the diaconate have already taken place and the first messengers from here will be sent out this year to bear witness to God’s love for his people.

How greatly the world needs this message today! And there could be still more of these messengers, including here in Kendoumayah. For there is not enough space at present; one of the dormitory buildings is still unfinished, with the result that some of the seminarians have to sleep in one of the classrooms.

A makeshift solution that needs to end as soon as possible. We have promised to help so that the work can be finished and that this world may be blessed with more Catholic priests. They come from every corner of the globe:

  • In Papua New Guinea you are supporting 17 seminarians,
  • in Ecuador another 40 in the seminary of San Pedro in the Archdiocese of Portoviejo,
  • another 34 in the seminary of St. Pius X in Istmina, Colombia,
  • 105 in the seminary of Fenoarivo in Madagascar, and
  • 49 seminarians of the Basilian Fathers in Ukraine – to name just a few.

They will be a source of renewal in the Church and in the world for they know, thanks to a thorough formation, that ‘the true success of our mission is a gift of grace’, as Pope Francis has reminded us all.

This article can be found in Mirror 0117.